A friend of mine owns several cannabis retail stores in the Seattle area. Recently, I was at his office for a visit. I wasn’t alone.
He also had several members of the Seattle Police Department and one of his security staff there. They were reviewing video footage of a recent store robbery at one of his locations. I was shocked watching the footage. Three armed gunmen rushed the front door of his dispensary late in the evening. They pushed aside his doorman/security guard and ran inside, guns drawn. Mayhem followed.
One employee was forced to the ground and had a gun held at his neck by a robber. The other two accomplices then jumped the display cases, pointed their weapons at the cashier and proceeded to grab all the cash and weed they could before running outside and into the night. As of this writing, the thieves had not been apprehended.
The cannabis industry has been hit hard by robberies almost from its inception. Brazen bad guys armed with guns have held up hundreds of marijuana stores in every state with legal cannabis. And, to make matters worse, they seem to be doing so with increasing frequency and in more and more violent fashion. One of the officers at the aforementioned meeting was a long-serving detective. She was worried that the robberies were rapidly escalating into scenarios in which shootings were inevitable, and likely to result in serious injury or death.
Less than a month later, another Seattle-area cannabis shop was robbed at gunpoint, this time resulting in an employee getting shot.
I’m not sure what the solution is. Cannabis is still largely a cash business, and armed robberies seem inevitable and almost impossible to stop. Passing the Safe Banking Act or similar legislation to reduce the amount of cash on hand at cannabis shops should be a no-brainer, but Republicans in Congress have obstructed reasonable attempts at cannabis banking reform.
It’s also worth looking at legislation that would enact stiffer penalties for robbing cannabis businesses, putting the crime on par with robbing a pharmacy — though, like the mandatory minimum sentences on certain drug crimes, it’s hard to say how much higher penalties would deter the criminal act itself.
Unlike burglaries, which can be deterred by fences, security alarms, safe rooms and cameras, armed robbers who hit stores during business hours are almost impossible to predict and much harder to deter. They do what they do to banks, liquor stores, grocery stores, restaurants and, unfortunately, pot shops. My guess is that bandits know pot shops have far more cash than a typical liquor store and that simple fact raises the risk of robberies even further.
At Marijuana Venture, we’re going to follow the developments and have an upcoming story on ways to minimize the likelihood of a robbery. Certainly things like location, business hours, lighting, cameras and a host of other measures can decrease the chances of being robbed by armed bandits, but are there other measures? A dual door system in which the customer must first pass through one door into a room, get checked, pass muster and then proceed into the main shopping area is one. However, the drawback of inconvenience to regular customers and lower sales may well offset any gains made to deter robberies by a system like that.
It’s a tricky situation, but one we’re monitoring. If you have any thoughts or ideas, please pass them on. Email me at Greg@MarijuanaVenture.com.